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Jeff's 2023-24 NHL Eastern Conference Spotlight Team:
New York Rangers (2022-23: 47-22-13, 107 points)
2023-24 Projected Season Point Total: 102.5 (Mybookie.Ag)
The New York Rangers finished the 2022-23 regular season with a record of 47-22-13, good for 107 points and third place in the Metropolitan Division. They qualified for the playoffs, but lost to the New Jersey Devils in the first round in seven games.
The Rangers' record is impressive considering that they were one of the youngest teams in the NHL last season. They were led by 24-year-old Artemi Panarin, who led the team in points with 92 (39 goals, 53 assists). Other key players included Mika Zibanejad (39 goals, 42 assists), Igor Shesterkin (37 wins, 2.48 GAA, .919 SV%), and Chris Kreider (52 goals, 25 assists).
The Rangers had solid metrics last season, ranking 16th for shots for and 6th in shots against. Their shot differential was +177, and their goal differential was +57, which is quite impressive. However, their face-off win percentage ranked only 19th, which is expected to improve as they now have a new head coach.
New York hired Peter Laviolette, following the team's recent loss to the New Jersey Devils. Laviolette has only missed the playoffs five times since he began coaching in 2001, and he even led the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup victory in 2005. Laviolette is a two-time Jack Adams Award winner as the NHL's top coach, and he has a proven track record of success. He will be tasked with getting the Rangers over the hump in the playoffs, where they have not advanced past the first round in the past three seasons.
I like the Rangers to exceed their season point total this season because of the moves made by their GM, Chris Drury, this summer. Forwards Blake Wheeler, Tyler Pitlick, and Nick Bonino add depth to an already loaded offense, while Erik Gustafsson provides grit and leadership to the blue line. Wheeler is a 15-year NHL veteran and a former captain of the Winnipeg Jets. He is a skilled playmaker and a proven scorer, and he should give the Rangers a boost on the offensive end.
Additionally, the fact that they have the best goaltender among the top teams in the Eastern Conference is another factor that reinforces my belief. Igor Shesterkin didn't have his best year, but he still put up impressive individual numbers that most NHL goalies would envy. He achieved a career-high 58 appearances in 2022-23, with a .916 save percentage and 2.48 goals-against average. During the post-season, Shesterkin stepped up his game and showed remarkable performance by posting a .931 save percentage and a 1.96 goals-against average.
The Rangers have recently acquired veteran goaltender Jonathan Quick to serve as a backup for Igor Shesterkin. Quick is an accomplished player, having won the Stanley Cup and two Jennings Trophies as the NHL's goaltender of the year. He will be a valuable asset to the Rangers, particularly if Shesterkin is injured and unable to play. In addition to these veteran additions, the Rangers also have a number of young players who are ready to take the next step in their development. Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Igor Shesterkin are all under the age of 28, and they are all among the best players in the NHL at their respective positions.
Overall, the Rangers have a very talented roster heading into the 2023-24 season. They have a good mix of veterans and young players, and they are led by a proven coach. If they can stay healthy and play to their potential, they should be one of the favorites to reach the Stanley Cup.
My Prediction: 50-23-9, 109 points, 3rd seed in the East
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